Bangladesh detains 200 political workers as dialogue dithers

June 1st, 2008 - 3:05 pm ICT by admin  

Dhaka, June 1 (IANS) Over 200 grass root level political workers were arrested late Saturday night as three mainstream parties said they would agitate and not participate in a political dialogue the government has initiated. The government, however, termed the arrests as part of the drive “to recover illegal firearms and arrest professional killers, criminals, drug peddlers and robbers,” The Daily Star said Sunday.

The parties have said they want their leaders, currently detained and being tried on graft charges, released as a precondition to participation in the talks aimed at preparing for the elections in December.

Media reports said Sunday that the government acted after the parties announced programmes to take their battle to the streets, not permitted under the national emergency now in force.

Former prime minister and Awami League (AL) chief Sheikh Hasina, in jail since last July, said her party’s stand on not participating in any political talks without her release was “final”.

She spoke through her lawyers from her special jail Saturday, The Daily Star said.

Her political rival and another former prime minister Khaleda Zia, lodged in another special jail nearby, has taken an identical stand.

Khandaker Delawar Hossain, secretary general of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) that Zia leads, has made common cause with Hasina, seeking the release of both the leaders.

Hossain and AL’s acting chief Mohammed Zillur Rahman vehemently protested the arrests, saying they were “bad for democracy and politics”.

Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) has also joined the boycott after its amir (chief) Motiur Rahman Nizami was jailed last week.

However, the government has been able to rope in some of the smaller parties and groups.

Kamal Hossain, veteran jurist and politician who heads Gono Forum, slammed the demand to release the women leaders facing trial.

He said in Chittagong port city Saturday that Zia and Hasina were “not the sole owners” of Bangladesh, and that the dialogue must proceed, New Age newspaper reported.

Former president H.M. Ershad, who heads Jatiya Party, has also taken a stand conciliatory to the caretaker government headed by Chief Advisor Fakhruddin Ahmed.

In office for 16 months, the interim government having no popular mandate, is under pressure at home and from the international community to hold the polls in December.

The US, Britain and the European Union have warned of political instability if free and fair polls are not held and power passed on to an elected government.

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